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Supporting Student Mental Health and Wellness from Within: A Collaborative Approach

How can educators close the gap within areas of mental health and student well-being from within? This is a question Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) takes seriously having seen first-hand the impact of having “boots on the ground” services to provide responsive mental health supports and timely, accessible assessments and professional learning services directly within schools.


Thanks to the generous, ongoing support of the Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation, CRPS has the unique opportunity to employ an in-house team of support professionals who work collaboratively with educators to support individual students and address thematic concerns within the student population.


“We are incredibly proud to support these vital services across the division,” said Cathy Geisler, Executive Director of the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. “The ability to be immediately responsive is key helping students facing challenges, or even when they just need a bit of extra help – time can make a big difference. Making sure our schools have the resources they need helps support long-term and impactful success of students, their families, and our schools.” 

Spirit North

The Foundation’s commitment of $255,000 for wrap-around supports during the 2022/23 school year allowed CRPS to hire a new speech and language pathologist and occupational therapist to join the services carried forward from previous years, which include a divisional psychologist, a school and family wellness worker, and school counsellors. Recently, the Foundation reinforced its support with a donation of $375,000 for the 2023/24 school year.


These professionals provide individual, small group and universal support for challenges that impact a student’s learning or school experience while supporting families and providing teachers and educational assistants (EAs) with strategies that can be used in the classroom regarding behaviour support and social/emotional regulation.


Historically, these positions were primarily contracted and operated on a consultative basis, leaving teachers and support staff to implement strategies on their own.


Not surprisingly, this traditional model presents many challenges for teachers and students alike — after all, social emotional needs are hard to address without actually knowing the students.


“The support these positions provide is enormous. They bring a wealth of knowledge to our school-based teams, allowing us to collaboratively approach the on-going and evolving needs of our schools,” said CRPS’ Director of Learning Services, Mike Shoemaker. “Now, if there is an emergent need within our student population, we can call them into the classroom right away, working with the kids and employing intervention as opposed to consulting around the intervention.”  

Canadian Rockies Public Schools

Two of the newest members of the wrap-around services team, Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) Gillian Kastendieck and Occupational Therapist (OT) Megan Taylor, have already seen great success in helping teachers feel more comfortable navigating classroom interventions.


“We spend a lot of time in the classrooms, getting to know teachers and students and observing what’s happening firsthand. That way we can base our goals and targets off of what helps students succeed in their environments. Because of the limited time contracted SLPs and OTs had with our staff, teachers and EAs feel much more comfortable coming to us with concerns because they know we will take the steps to solve them really quickly,” explained Kastendieck.

Echoing Kastendieck’s sentiments, Taylor added, “The real magic is that we’re here physically in the building, which provides a bit more comfort for teachers. It’s easier for them to come to us informally and ask questions when they need help or see a student struggling, rather than waiting for the next scheduled visit in six weeks. Our focus this year is on building capacity for the staff and EAs who are seeing the students every day, exploring how we can pass on our expertise so they feel more comfortable implementing interventions in the classroom.”


Because the team works under a collaborative response model, they’re able to implement strategies that complement one another as well as leverage the same tools or strategies across specialties.


For instance, if the SLP identifies behavioural issues that stem from speech difficulties they can strategize with the divisional psychologist to employ interventions that address both behaviour and speech. This immediate response makes a huge difference in the lives of both students and teachers.


“Pauw’s significant financial support continues to enable CRPS to offer programming that ensures each student thrives physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually,” said CRPS’ Superintendent of Schools Christopher MacPhee. “For a division our size to have the resources and support we do have incredible short-term impacts on our students. Additionally, by leaning on the invaluable knowledge these support staff provide, our staff will be better prepared to enrich learning opportunities and fuel the health and well-being of future students.”

Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation